The Legend of Greystone

To the untrained eye, the event that took place at Beverly Hills’ Greystone Mansion on Sunday, April 11, could have easily been mistaken for a cocktail party thrown during Hollywood’s Golden Age. The lavish setting of the palatial estate provided guests with complimentary fine dining, flowing open bars, and birds-eye views of the Los Angeles skyline. Rita Hayworth’s Cadillac and Fred Astaire’s Rolls-Royce were parked in the mansion’s motor court, while a host of other scintillating prewar and vintage cars could be found in the guest parking lot on the grounds’ north side.

In actuality, the City of Beverly Hills took the unusual step of opening the hallowed mansion, once home to the locally-legendary Doheny family, for the inaugural Greystone Concours d’Elegance, a daylong celebration of food, fashion, and collectible vintage sports cars and luxury automobiles.  One hundred dollar tickets ensured that the Concours limited its guests to the pedigreed and affluent crowd that generally moves in the circles of the collector car niche.  The group of automotive aficionados and classic car enthusiasts in attendance seemed to enjoy the day’s program, which included self-guided tours of the opulent mansion, a fashion show on one of the estate’s manicured lawns, and a judged exhibit of a wide selection of rare and desirable classic automobiles.

A 1933 Minerva AL Cabriolet owned by Paul Emple took home the Best of Show award, while Michael Harrah’s 1929 Packard Convertible Sedan earned the Spirit of Greystone award.  European standouts included Peter Mullin’s 1937 Delahaye 135M Roadster, which won the Tiffany & Co. Most Elegant award, and David Sydorick’s 1956 Maserati A6G/2000 Zagato, which garnered the Mayor’s Choice award.  Scott Gauthier’s 1956 Fiat 8V Zagato rounded out the top accolades by winning the People’s Choice award.

Many of Southern California’s most influential car collectors are local to the Beverly Hills area, so city officials had little problem in drawing some of the hobby’s top names and cars, as well as attracting the sponsorship and participation of recognized business leaders in the collector car field.  Santa Monica-based auction house Gooding & Company, which has shot to the forefront of the competition with its annual Pebble Beach sale, and the Petersen Automotive Museum, a recognized leader in the automotive culture of Los Angeles, both made a considerable impact with their participation, each organization displaying a pair of unique and historically rich cars.  While Gooding displayed a one-of-a-kind 1956 Nash Rambler bodied by Pininfarina that is referred to as the Palm Beach Special, and a 1938 Talbot Darracq T23 Drop Head Coupe, the Petersen Museum brought a 1927 Rolls-Royce Phantom once owned by Fred Astaire, and a 1953 Cadillac with a Ghia-designed body that was given to Rita Hayworth by her husband Ali Khan.  While the Cadillac Ghia is one of two ever made, the Astaire Rolls features a valuable-in-itself piece of Louis Vuitton luggage that is monogrammed with an “A,” and packed with Astaire accoutrements such as a cricket paddle, tennis racket, cane, top hat and decanter.

A portion of the proceeds from the event, whose sponsors also included Rolls-Royce, Ferrari, Tiffany & Co. and the Armand Hammer Foundation, went to the Friends of Greystone, a non-profit organization dedicated to refurbishing the mansion and preserving its cultural legacy.  Dubbed Greystone for the substantial use of stone construction evident in its exterior walls, the mansion was built in 1928 with the Doheny family’s sizable oil fortune. In 1965 the City of Beverly Hills acquired the property, and in 1976 the estate was recognized as a historic landmark with its addition to the Registry of Historic Places.  Though the Concours struggled slightly with ever-threatening storm clouds and some small teething pains to be expected for a first time event, organizers and guests seemed to agree overall that the marriage of the setting and the automotive treasures on hand will make a good long term match.  Indeed, the City of Beverly Hills has already announced that the second annual Greystone Concours d’Elegance has been scheduled for April 10, 2011